9 Tips for Using Your ATM card in Europe

bancomat
gianfrancogoria/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

It used to be that the savvy European traveler loaded up on free traveler's checks before getting on the plane, fully expecting to stand in a long bank line to cash a few of them every couple of days. Not anymore. ATM use has all but decimated the traveler's check industry.

The bad news is that the banking folks noticed. Like in a loony cartoon you could imagine huge dollar signs popping into their eyeballs as they read the reports of money flowing out of European ATMS. Fees were quickly added to enrich the coffers. Still, although those fees have made it more expensive to use a credit or debit card to get cash from an ATM in Europe, it's still the least expensive and most convenient way to get local currency these days.

Shorten Your PIN

If your PIN is longer than four digits, you may need to get a new number. Many foreign machines don't like longer codes or letters in a PIN. You can get letters translated to numbers by asking your bank.

Let Your Bank Know You'll Be Traveling

This is very important. Before you go, make sure you call the number on the back of your credit or debit card and inform the company of your dates of travel. Otherwise they'll allow you the first transaction and possibly reject others on suspicion that your card is being used by a stranger in a a strange land.

Max Out Your Withdrawal

Making many small withdrawals increases the number of per transaction fees. Get as much as you can, but don't carry it all with you. Keep the cash you'll need in your wallet and stash the rest in a safe place.

Don't Get Dependent.

If you're nearly out of cash, take out some more when you can. You don't want to end up with no cash in a small town with one malfunctioning ATM. They do run out of money sometimes, so don't take any chances.

Test Your Card Before You Go

Make sure your card works before you leave home. Don't just rip it off its paper backing and stuff it in your money belt. Try it out in an ATM at home first and then when you get to your destination, make taking out money your first priority.

Know Your Numbers

Make sure someone you trust at home has your credit card information. Make a copy of your card and take it with you, so you can access your number should something happen to your card. Of course, keep the copy in a different place from where you carry your card.

Take Two

Bring more than one card, so you have a backup. Plus, if it's a card from a different bank, you'll have access to more machines.

Avoid Withdrawing Twice on Weekends

There have been reports that some European banks don't update their databases over the weekend. That means that if you've withdrawn your max amount on Friday, you may not be able to get more money off that card until Monday morning.

Buy a Prepaid Travel Card

If you're not comfortable with the idea of using ATMs abroad, you might like using a prepaid travel card instead. With a prepaid card, you can plan your budget, add a little more for unseen travel expenses, and put that amount on the account. You aren't borrowing the bank's money, but simply making your money available through ATMs. You can buy a card like the Visa TravelMoney or order one through AAA.

Was this page helpful?